Officers from Police Scotland are to visit farms and agricultural suppliers across the country to warn of the dangers which illegal and counterfeit pesticides pose to the integrity of the food chain, and to peoples’ health.
Although there is no evidence that the use of illegal pesticides is widespread in Scotland, the move is in response to an emerging threat in Europe, which has already seen the loss of farmland in Poland worth 3 million Euros as a direct result of their use there.
Working in partnership with a range of bodies including Trading Standards, HMRC and the Health and Safety Executive, the officers will be raising awareness of the threats which the use of such chemicals pose to farmers and staff working for agricultural merchants.
The two-week campaign is part of a European-wide initiative co-ordinated by Europol against the trade, often run by serious and organised criminal gangs, in which it estimates the global market for counterfeit and illegal pesticides is £4.4 Billion Euros.
Around 10% of all pesticides in use throughout Europe are thought to be illicit or counterfeit, and as these products have not undergone any form of safety checks, their use poses serious human health risks as well as environmental damage by polluting water courses with potentially very toxic chemicals.
In addition to the risks posed to humans, their use can also have serious implications for wildlife and the environment.
A previous operation in 2015 by Europol carried out at ports and airports across seven EU countries recovered 190 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides, and while the UK has remained free from the dangers until now, authorities in Scotland are very keen to stop the problem occurring here.
Chief Superintendent Barry McEwan, Head of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities, said: “Counterfeit and illicit pesticides have been identified in parts of Europe as an emerging threat posed by organised criminals; however, to date none have been found in Scotland.
We are fortunate in Scotland that the Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Group (SAITG), Police Scotland and all agencies working within the Scottish Crime Campus have recognised there is potential for the same organised criminals to exploit our communities. We are keen to prevent this happening and the public should be in no doubt that the same criminal networks who import, distribute and sell counterfeit and illicit goods in our communities may see a commercial opportunity and explore it for profit without considering the harm.
This is why my team are working collaboratively with our law enforcement partners across the UK, Europe and internationally during Operation Silver Axe II to raise awareness. Our activity will focus on joint prevention, education visits across agricultural communities, ports, producers, distributors and buyers of these products limiting the threat to Scottish businesses and ultimately protecting the health and wellbeing of the Scottish public.
Operation Silver Axe II is about prevention, it is about enhanced international collaboration, deterring organised criminals from diversifying into new areas. This preventative approach will be supported by enforcement action during February and March, with a shared commitment to tackling organised crime and reducing the harm it causes to individuals, communities and the economy of Scotland.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson said: “Police Scotland is working with partners to raise awareness across agricultural communities, limiting the threat to Scottish businesses, protecting the health and wellbeing of the Scottish public, while helping protect jobs involved in the legitimate supply of pesticides globally.
Enhanced international collaboration with Interpol and Europol is crucial to achieving these aims. The criminality comes in many guises, generating wealth at the expense of others, exploiting law-abiding people, including the most vulnerable members of our communities.”